Game 67 Preview: Blazers vs. Warriors

Game Time:  7:30 p.m.  TV:  TNT

The Blazers head to the bay tonight to take on the Golden State Warriors...a team staring down the wrong end of a five-game losing streak and seven losses in their last eight.  You don't have to be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to figure out that streak or their 17-46 overall record.  In fact I'm pretty sure Speidy could do it, given three or four guesses anyway.  Here's a clue:  110, 117, 127, 101, 135.  A Communications major's attempt at a Fibonacci Sequence?  The IQ scores of five random NBA bloggers?  The combination to the safe under the trap door beneath the Templar statue at your local Masonic hall?  Nay, dear friends.  Those are the point totals given up by Golden State in their last five games.  And none of them went to overtime either.  You have to really, really try hard to give up 135 points in regulation.  Giving up 590 points in five games is darn near inexcusable.  It's a whisker away from allowing 30 points in every quarter for a solid week.  But this is what it's come to in Oakland.  Only Toronto has a worse defensive efficiency.  Only Memphis allows more points in the paint.  Only Minnesota allows more fast break points, and that barely.  Nobody allows a higher opponent shooting percentage.  They're actually 24th in the league in three-point percentage defense, which is a major achievement by comparison.  Only Indiana sends the opponent to the foul line more.  Nobody is worse on the defensive boards.  It's...a...nightmare.  The only thing they do defensively is force a ton of turnovers.  That isn't nearly enough most nights.

Of course none of this is new.  The Warriors have been trending this way for years.  In the past their frantically-paced offense made up much of the difference.  They still lead the league in pace by a country mile.  But there are two kinds of fast-paced teams.  There are your fast-paced, high-efficiency squads like Phoenix and Denver who legitimately strike the Fear of God in you.  Then there are your fast-paced, low-efficiency teams like Indiana and Minnesota who inspire the same amount of fear as a moderately chubby cat.  Golden State sits right in the middle, around 15th in the league in efficiency.  They shoot a healthy 46.8% clip from the field, 36.7% from the arc, and score 20 points per game from the foul line.  All of that adds up to just over 107 points generated.  But they give up over 111.

The three big guns for the Warriors are their old hand Monta Ellis, even older hand Corey Maggette, and rookie Stephen Curry.  Ellis, scoring almost 26 per game, has been out but is expected to return tonight against the Blazers.  Maggette scores 20 himself but he's also been hampered by hamstring issues.  Curry has stepped in to pick up the slack, notching monster games against Atlanta and Charlotte last week.  That trio could easily put 70 points on the board on their own.  The rest of the lineup has been patchwork all season as the Warriors have coped with as many injuries as Portland has.  If there's one lesson the Blazers have learned over the years, though, it's that somebody from the depths of the Warrior rotation is going to step up and kick us in the crotch.  It might be Anthony Morrow (coming off a 28-point outing Monday), it might be Reggie Williams (also scoring 28 in that game), it might be Anthony Tolliver...somebody always steps up when Portland comes to town.

Which brings us to one of the more important items of the evening.  The Blazers haven't won in Oakland since the heyday of the Fresh Prince.  Not Will Smith...Machiavelli.  Corey Maggette tends to make mincemeat out of LaMarcus Aldridge on both ends of the court.  Neither the guards nor the centers seem comfortable keeping up the pace.  The Warriors turn it, burn it, and blow the Blazers away.  The energy isn't so high in Portland for some reason so the Blazers return the favor there, but Oracle Arena is a house of horrors for Portland.

If the Blazers are going to prevail tonight they need to limit turnovers and control the boards and therefore the pace.  Obviously they need to get back in transition and work for the easy shot as well, but they can cut at least 10 points off of Golden State's production by not playing into their hands by letting unnecessary rebounds or silly turnovers go.  Aldridge is going to have to show up as well, as Portland will need all hands on deck offensively.  This could be a night when every Blazer on the floor cashes in big time, but we've seen plenty of games this season when sorry defense has left key members of the rotation free and they haven't capitalized.  Theoretically Jerryd Bayless should be able to take the ball to the hole.  Theoretically Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster should get open looks.  One of the keys to this game is whether they'll take advantage of the license to score or whether this will be just another game.  Finally the Blazers can't be intimidated by the Warriors' speed or their ability to score in droves.  Letting a 10-point run go in this game isn't a disheartening thing the way it would be against, say, Cleveland.  If the go on a mini-run stop the bleeding then get those points back.

The Blazers don't absolutely need both this game and tomorrow's against Sacramento but they do need at least one of them.  Two would be better, of course.  But having just beat Sacramento, and that in clumsy fashion, taking this one might be a safer bet.  As we've said a few times over the last month, road games against lesser teams will determine Portland's fate as much as anything.

See the craziness over at GoldenStateofMind.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  The next mailbag comes out tomorrow so get your questions in now at the e-mail address just above.

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